Move Programs Help Ops to Sign Up Subs

Cable operators looking to capture additional acquisitions when consumers move into new homes can take advantage of a new "Utility Connect" program from two-year-old

The company plans to add Utility Connect in 17 markets over the next three months, following a test with Cox Communications Inc. in Tucson, Ariz., which began early last month.

In the program, consumers who call utilities to get gas or electricity switched on will be directed to customer-service representatives, who will then offer to switch the customers to their new cable-television providers.

"It allows us to get the customer before they even move into the area," Cox Tucson director of video-services marketing Paco Varela said.

Varela tested the service recently when he moved from Michigan, and was pleased with how easy-to-use it was.

When consumers move, they typically call the utility company first, then the phone company, with cable falling in third, according to CEO Michael McCabe, a former Tele-Communications Inc. executive.

McCabe warned cable operators against becoming complacent and waiting for customers to find them. He pointed to the deals direct-broadcast satellite provider DirecTV Inc. has with a number of regional Bell operating companies, saying those partnerships are especially effective in attracting consumers when they're in the midst of a move.

Multiple Operators Subscriber Transfer president Neal Flyer said that even if operators typically get new residents after they move in, "You're never going to get them all, and you won't sell them onto all of the new services." That's particularly true when operators wait for customers to find them, he added.

Cable customers in participating M.O.S.T. systems get letters with information on their new cable operators within 24 hours of calls to disconnect their current cable service, Flyer said. "The key is that it's sent to the old address," he added, when customers are less immediately vulnerable to competition such as DBS.

M.O.S.T. was launched more than one year ago in Southern California to alert disconnecting cable customers about cable operators in their new neighborhoods. It now serves 10.3 million homes passed and works with a number of MSOs at the system level, including AT & T Broadband, Charter Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable, three of the top four MSOs.

Flyer expects to launch the M.O.S.T. service in New York sometime this month, starting with Time Warner customers and eventually adding Cablevision Systems Corp. is building out networks of services-which include local newspapers, utility companies, telephone companies, Internet-service providers, cable companies and DBS providers-starting with the largest markets.

McCabe predicted that 80 percent to 85 percent of movers could use the company's service, although in some markets, movers might not have access to all of the above services.'s cable partners include the top five: AT & T Broadband, Time Warner, Comcast Corp., Charter and Cox. in most cases must also make individual deals at the system level, but the company has a national deal with Comcast.


If there's no deal in place, does not promote the local cable operator.

DBS is pitched only in areas where does not yet have cable affiliates, McCabe said. "We don't want to eliminate choice for consumers, but we realize the value that cable brings to the table," he added.

In addition to promoting cable as the video provider of choice, will also promote cable-modem and telephony services over their competitors, where available.

Late last month, announced its service launch throughout northeast Ohio, which includes a partnership with Time Warner's division there.

The region has experienced "a significant influx of new people as a wide variety of businesses choose to locate regional or hub operations centers here," Time Warner division president Steve Fry said in a press release.

Finding potential telephony and data customers at the time of their moves is crucial, McCabe said, because most people won't bother switching those services later if it means taking time off work to schedule installation appointments. partners pay acquisition fees for new subscribers the company signs up-often discounted fees if the move is across town, rather than across the country.

Cable operators can also derive revenues of their own from the partnership when they transfer incoming new-connect calls to the call center. If then sells the new cable customers on other local services, the operators can earn a commission.

To help promote the move service and its Web site, bargains for free advertising from service partners-television spots on cable or print ads with the local paper.

In Tucson, Varela said, Cox was also exploring partnerships with other companies, such as National Home Connections LLC. NHC's is a relocation portal with ties to the real estate market.

Late last month, NHC announced that it had signed Cox's system in Omaha, Neb., to its list of service partners. Cox sells digital-cable, telephone and high-speed-data service in Omaha.